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The freewheelin' Bob Dylan tour

By Mu Qian (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-23 07:40
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 The freewheelin' Bob Dylan tour

Bob Dylan performs during the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in June, 2009, in Culver City, California. Photos Provided to China Daily

The freewheelin' Bob Dylan tour

Chinese fans of the counterculture hero will finally get a chance to see him live at concerts in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei. Mu Qian reports.

Bob Dylan probably wouldn't think much of his China tour coverage by Xinmin Evening News, one of Shanghai's most-read newspapers. The photo it used for a story about him on March 4 turned out to be that of Willie Nelson.

Apparently, the error received few complaints from readers, and it is still not corrected on the paper's website, at the time of writing.

"In China, maybe many people have heard of Dylan, but not many really know who he is," says Zhang Xiaozhou, a Beijing-based music critic.

Nonetheless, Zhang expects the American troubadour's China concerts to be well attended, as he believes that many Chinese will not want to miss the chance to see one of the world's most famous counterculture icons.

Dylan, who turns 70 in May, will play his first mainland show on April 6 at the Workers' Gymnasium of Beijing, followed by another at Shanghai Grand Stage on April 8.

He will also perform in Taipei on April 3 and in Hong Kong on April 12 and 13.

Dylan's Chinese fans have been celebrating his coming since the day the news was announced, and many who don't live in the cities on Dylan's route are planning to travel to those places to see him.

The Hong Kong concerts were announced before those in Beijing and Shanghai, and Ma Zhen, a 29-year-old Dylan fan from Shandong province, immediately secured a ticket to the Hong Kong concert and started working on flights, hotel, and the Hong Kong and Macao Pass, which is the required documentation for mainlanders to travel to Hong Kong.

Now that Dylan is set to perform in Beijing and Shanghai, Ma is planning to attend those concerts too.

"My life has been greatly influenced by Dylan's works, especially his views about the world and humanity," says Ma, who has a tattoo of Dylan's logo on one of his arms.

In China, most Dylan fans are young people who grew up after China's reform and opening-up in 1978, while few of Dylan's Chinese contemporaries knew him at the zenith of his fame during China's political turmoil of the 1960s.

A Dylan fan for the past eight years, Ma has all of Dylan's published CDs, as well as some unofficial bootlegs that were sent by foreign friends he met on online forums devoted to the singer.

"I used to post on the BBS to ask when it would be possible for Dylan to come to China," says Ma, whose ID "Dancing Child with Chinese Suit" is taken from Dylan's song I Want You.

"I also planned to travel abroad to see his concert, but it proved to be too difficult. Now I'm so excited that he's really coming to China."

Half of the tickets for the Beijing concert were sold on the first day they were released, March 16, and they are nearly all sold out now, according to Gehua-Live Nation, the promoter of Dylan's China concerts.

Among the earliest sold-out categories of tickets in Beijing were the cheapest ones of 280 yuan ($43) and the top level ones of 1961.411 yuan, which were so priced by the promoter "to commemorate the date of Dylan's first official performance - April 11, 1961".

There have been questions from fans regarding how the company will charge 0.411 yuan. It turns out that, in practice the ticketing agency will charge 1,961 yuan, though "1961.411 yuan" is printed on the ticket.

"The Dylan concerts will be a milestone for our company," says Wei Ming, general manager of Gehua-Live Nation, a joint-venture between Chinese culture enterprise Gehua and the United States-based entertainment company Live Nation. "Dylan is one of the artists that we wanted most to bring to China."

In 2010 there were rumors Dylan would tour China in early April. Brokers Brothers Herald, a Taiwan-based agent who worked on that unrealized Dylan tour of China, said the plan failed because the Chinese Ministry of Culture didn't give its approval.

The Ministry of Culture declined to give an interview regarding the issue, but an entertainment insider who did not want to be named revealed the cancellation was due to commercial reasons.

On Feb 28 this year, the Ministry of Culture issued its approval of Dylan's 2011 China tour. According to Wei, the application process was "very smooth".

Dylan has had a ceaseless performing schedule since 1988 and some have dubbed it the "never-ending tour", of about 100 shows every year.

Apart from China, he will also play in Vietnam for the first time on this tour.

Some audiences have complained about the unpredictability of Dylan's performances as he changes his set list, arrangements and vocal approach almost every night.

Ma, who used to participate in the guessing game of Dylan's set list for the next concert and was number one on a website called "Dylan Pool", says it's hard to predict Dylan's program in China.

"I don't want to guess what he's going to sing in China, although I expect him to perform more of his later works which I really like," Ma says.

Ma believes that Dylan will change his program from city to city and that's one of the reasons why he wants to attend the concerts in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Critic Zhang, who saw a Dylan concert in Germany in 2006, advises Chinese audiences to take some time to study the artist's lyrics before going to the concerts so as to "get more value for their money".

He also suggests Chinese audiences should be prepared, as the shows may not be what they expected.

"It's only natural if you feel lost and confused at first at a Dylan concert. You may not even be able to recognize a song that you thought you knew well," he says. "But I think, with his ever-changing arrangements, he is revitalizing his works."

(China Daily 03/23/2011 page18)

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